The Latest: Venezuela government says attack caused blackout

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People walk in the streets of Caracas after a massive blackout left the city and other parts of the country without electricity, in Caracas Venezuela, Monday, July 22, 2019. The power in the capital went out around 4:30 p.m. (2030 GMT) and immediately backed up traffic as the subway stopped working and office workers had to begin trekking home during rush hour. (AP Photo/Ariana Cubillos)

CARACAS, Venezuela (AP) — The Latest on Venezuela’s blackout (all times local):

7:35 p.m.

Venezuela’s socialist government is blaming a nationwide blackout on an “electromagnetic attack” against the nation’s hydroelectric system.

Communications Minister Jorge Rodríguez read a statement broadcast on social media Monday in which he said authorities were working to restore service as quickly as possible. He appealed for calm and said contingency plans had been activated so that medical facilities would not be affected. He said security forces were also being deployed to guarantee peoples’ safety.

Authorities attributed an almost week-long outage across Venezuela in March to a U.S.-sponsored electromagnetic attack on the Guri dam, source of around 80% of the nation’s power. But government opponents laid bare years of underinvestment in the nation’s grid by corrupt officials who mismanaged an oil bonanza in the nation sitting atop the world’s largest crude reserves.

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6:30 p.m.

The lights have gone out across much of Venezuela, snarling traffic in the capital and reviving fears of the blackouts that plunged the country into chaos a few months ago.

The power in the capital went out after 4 p.m. (2000 GMT) and immediately backed up traffic as stop lights and the subway stopped working during rush hour.

“This is horrible, a disaster,” Reni Blanco, a 48-year-old teacher, said as she joined a crush of people who flooded into the streets of the capital trying to make it home before nightfall.

Authorities have yet to comment and it was unclear the scale of the outage.

But there were reports on social media that 19 of 24 Venezuelan states were also affected. Netblocks, a group monitoring internet activity, said network data showed most of Venezuela was knocked offline with national connectivity at just 6% after the latest cuts. The normally non-stop state TV channel, a key way for the government to keep people informed, was also off the air, leaving frustrated Venezuelans to wonder how long they would be left in the dark.

Blackouts roiled the country in March, leaving much of the capital without power and water for almost a week. President Nicolás Maduro blamed the outage on a U.S.-sponsored “electromagnetic attack” against the nation’s biggest hydroelectric dam.

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